Penn's War: Media Lap Dogs Backed Iraq Mess

Toll or Deaths, Injuries

Five years after the American "shock and awe" campaign to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein, 159,000 troops still remain in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. In addition to military deaths, an estimated 29,275 have been wounded. But the largest toll has been on Iraqi civilians, with 81,964 to 89,448 dead, according to the Brookings Institute.

One of the highest prices of the war has been the public loss of faith in the ability of its government to tell the truth and in a docile press corps, according to the film.

Solomon's meticulous research and rarely seen archival news footage from World War II through the Vietnam War, Panama, Grenada, Bosnia and two Gulf wars analyzes the way in which the media regurgitated the politicians' justification for war.

Every president since John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- all except Jimmy Carter -- came under fire for their war rhetoric. But Solomon is even harsher on the news media that trumpeted the government's war cry.

Even Walter Cronkite, whom Solomon calls "the patron saint of journalism," did not escape attack, as CBS footage chronicled the newsman's participation in an aerial mission in Vietnam. Cronkite marvels at the weaponry and U.S. military superiority.

Analyzing the press coverage of the Iraq War, Solomon points to the masterful use of public relations by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he called on 500 journalists to "embed" themselves with the troops. In doing so, the press showed only the perspective of the "attackers" and not the victims.

Solomon contends he is no pacifist: "If war is justified, the government doesn't have to lie about it."

"The public supported World War II even though it went on for so long, because the public never felt it was based on lies," according to Solomon, who, in the film, reminds the audience of the now-debunked Bush mantra that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

In one of the most compelling scenes of the film, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., speaks out against impending war in Afghanistan in never-seen footage three days after 9/11. She cast the lone vote in Congress against authorizing force in the emotional aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

Journalists as Stenographers

"War Made Easy" is being distributed to schools around the country in the hope that Americans can learn "media literacy" and be more critical consumers of the news, looking to more than mainstream sources, the film's distributors contend.

Solomon also urges the media to get back to solid investigative reporting that challenges the reins of power. Today, he said, they are only "stenographers of the war makers in Washington."

"Journalists want to be ahead of the curve, but not out on a limb and they don't want to take professional risks," Solomon said. "There are great reporters through all the eras, but they are islands of good journalism swamped by oceans of received wisdom."

"It's an appeal to democracy that can create genuine alternatives to war," he said. "Journalists need to fight back and the public needs to challenge itself."

However, Rich Noyes, director of research at the Media Research Center, sees the press coverage leading up to the war in Iraq differently. He has just released a five-year study of the three major television networks.

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